Inhumane treatment at Auckland Women's Prison - time for courageous leadership

February 23, 2021

Yesterday, we read the interim ruling from Manukau District Court Judge David McNaughton about the horrific treatment Mihi Basset and Karma Cripps endured from Corrections staff at Auckland Women’s Prison.

The details of this story have horrified so many of us  who didn’t believe ‘this sort of thing’ happened in Aotearoa.

For many people, this news is simply another example of systemic and interpersonal violence against wahine Māori. It is nothing new.

It is clear that Corrections has failed its own standards, and failed to uphold commitments promised under Hōkai Rangi. Kelvin Davis needs to show political courage and compassion to turn this system around - the kind of courage he demonstrated in opposition. 

Before he became Minister, Davis said our Corrections system “wasn’t working” and is "the closest we get to building a bonfire and unquestioningly throwing tax-payer cash into it, to keep it burning indefinitely.”

In 2016 he talked about the lack of trust that many whānau have in the system.

“Transparency doesn't exist in Corrections. I asked to visit the Prison Inspectors but was denied for some trumped up reason. Almost daily I get letters from prisoners saying their complaints get ignored and even torn up in front of them. Likewise I get regular complaints from parents, wives and partners who can't get information about their loved ones. I got an email this morning from a concerned mother - her 18 year old son has been beaten and the prison says there's nothing wrong with him. It just goes on and on.”

He was right.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, at all. 

There is another way to do things. Over the last couple years, we have seen some important examples of political leadership, where failures  were acknowledged and people with power committed to better, evidence-based approaches to justice.

In New York City, after a long campaign driven by activists, lawmakers voted to close Rikers Island jail, an institution that was synonymous with brutality and inhumanity which exposed the many failures of a punitive justice model. Following the killing of George Floyd and the uprising of #BlackLivesMatter, the Minneapolis City Council took $8million from Police and invested it into services that support people.

Doing this wasn’t easy - it required real bravery to stand up to people who agree with, support, or profit from mass incarceration and oppressive policing - but it was necessary. There is a long way to go to undoing the harm from racist mass imprisonment, so it must start now. 

We are calling on the Government to act and achieve what has happened overseas - where money and resources have been invested in practices that work, and where the approach has shifted from punishment to healing - what Māori advocates have been calling on for decades. Ināia tonu nei - the time is now.

The exposure of these horrific practices could serve as a catalyst for change. Let’s use this opportunity to build something better, for Mihi and Karma.